Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Picture Worth 15,000 People

From the Treehugger Page... There is a discussion of lane capacity needed to move 15,000 people per hour. Guess what does it best...Rapid Rail Transit. Check out the link.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Kansas City Leaders Hop on Board

After Kansas City everyman Clay Chastain put a measure on the ballot in Kansas City to build the cities first light rail line, many of the community leaders that once shunned him are now jumping on board according to an article in the Kansas City Star today. Kansas City is a relative newcomer to the Transit Space Race but its story is interesting.

After many years of trying and many of the local supposed pro-transit folks against him, Clay had a hard time getting support for the system. He'd tried many times before, but had failed and claimed that this year was his last try to get the rail that Kansas City deserves. This year WAS different and produced a stunning win. While it was just for one line and not a comprehensive plan, i believe this effort alone to start rail in a non-rail city should be a part of the TSR.

The plan has some issues that needed to be hammered out including messy ballot language with specifics about not using overhead wires in favor of a system that exists only in Bordeaux France but is now being constructed in Angers. It also calls for a gondola and other specific things that make it hard to implement. There are more quirky ballot language issues but its a start.

To follow articles and happenings with the light rail line in Kansas City, someone has started a blog. Check it out if you get a chance.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Transit Space Race Profile: Denver

I've always liked Denver. The idea of the Rocky Mountains was cool and when i spent a summer in Boulder just northwest of Denver i was sold on the region. So it came as no surprise that after issues with drinking water and many other environmental issues had forced the region to be conscious about their surroundings that they would buck up and give money to the cause of sustainable mobility. This program was called Fastracks and is really what started me thinking about the TSR (Transit Space Race).

While Portland was doing some good things, Washington has been creeping in and the Big 6 (New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay and the LA-San Diego Metro Regions) creating mobility options for their cities there was a small groundswell of progressive thinking in smaller regions that led to the beginning of a reverse to what we now call the transit holocaust. While the GM Conspiracy or Idea of Conspiracy was part of this, the reality is that American's really believed that the automobile and buses were far superior to the rail lines of yesteryear. We know now that it's not quite true and that multimodalism is the way to go, especially since traffic is tying up our freeways and we are running out of room, at the same time automobiles are not as friendly to the family pocketbook as mass transit.

This groundswell led to an explosion led by Denver's efforts to massively fund transit for the region and build it fast. Now 119 new miles of rail will be built and the TOD department is going crazy trying to build out the station areas to reign in the population growth that the state will experience. The plan is to raise $4.7 Billion dollars(Local and Federal) for transit lines and have them built by 2012. It's only less than half a cent raise in the sales tax! This boost specific to infrastructure alone is unheard of anywhere else in the country and gets us to start thinking about how all of these lines might be funded in other places. It also lays the ground work for a possible program that the Federal government could promote to boost transit around the country. If conducted properly. This could be the best way to invest ever. With transit oriented development being the number one real estate product and people wanting to locate in 24 hour neighborhoods, its no doubt that this public and private investment will explode in the next few years and some progressive thinking congressman should jump on.

That gets me thinking, what if we spent the money from the Iraq War on transit...well that's another post entirely. Congrats to Denver on this monumental investment in their future and hopefully other cities in or out of the TSR will jump in whole hog.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Transit Space Race

So i've been talking a lot in the last few days about bus versus train. And it will be a common theme on this blog but i think that it needs to be balanced as well. But lately I've had an exciting thought running through my head that should be mentioned and from now on will be on the sidebar of this blog...The Transit Space Race.

The Transit Space Race is an idea i came up with after seeing all these cities trying to one up each other in terms of funding larger fixed guideway expansions to attract new jobs and the young talented professionals and thinkers that make up the creative class. The idea of the space race fills me with excitement because so much technology and innovation came from that time period. It's hard not to get excited if you are an urban planner about the coming rail expansions around the country. And while the forces that be try to keep building roads and keep the American Taxpayer buying oil and automobiles, there is a silent majority rising up and leading the way to a more sustainable United States.

If compared to a volcano, this movement has been bubbling under the surface ever since ISTEA was passed in 1992. Every since then new rail lines have been popping up around the country. The success of these initial lines bred confidence that many cities could build these expansions to increase ridership and enhance livability in many cities around the country that were starting to become cool and hip. The eruption came however in November of 2004 when the Denver Region passed the Fastracks Ballot Measure authorizing 119 new miles of rail line and $4.7 Billion dollar investment in the regions infrastructure.

Since this watershed event, many cities around the country are starting to think about how to fund these expansions to essentially keep up with the Jonses. Salt Lake City just passed a ballot measure that raised money for 4 Trax expansions and a commuter rail line. Charlotte passed a half cent sales tax in 1998 and is looking to build 4 lines and a streetcar in addition to the South Corridor which is under construction now. Seattle has grand expansion plans for 40+ miles in addition to the construction underway now. Some cities are feeling a bit left out. Tampa's leaders are worried they will be left behind while cities like Minneapolis have newspaper editorials begging to let them into the race. Other cities are building new lines but have no grand plans for expansion...until they get their acts together, they will be falling behind.

So to say the least this is exciting. If congress can create a way to get under this exploding national expansion and make these dreams possible for more cities in this new century, then perhaps we will have a program as great as the Federal Highway program of the 50s. We'll call this our do-over and this time we'll get it right. Let's shoot for the moon.

So from now on there will be a sidebar on the blog listing cities in the race and cities who wish they were in the race (planning for lines or talking extensively about expansion of major systems) This list will not include the big 5 of NYC, Boston, Chicago, Philly and San Francisco (Pantograph's Home) but rather cities rapidly expanding their transit systems. Washington, Portland and Los Angeles have a head start, but so did the Russian's with Sputnik. So each time a city moves into another category you will know. Perhaps also in the future I'll do a detailed explanation into why i think each city is in the race. So without further ado...Let the Race Begin!

If there are any I'm missing let me know.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

So Tell Us Why Bus is Better...

The folks at Better Transit Without Trolleys want us to believe a few things below...mainly the 5 points that will be refuted below...

Faster Travel- "Buses Can Provide Faster Service Than Trolleys" is what they say. However we know that diesel engines whether hybrid or not are inferior in terms of acceleration when it comes to moving large loads of people. And with stops short before getting back on the main rail line this will allow greater time savings than a bus. Also, buses going into downtown have to contend with traffic and snow while an LRV will enter the subway system for enhanced people movement. This can even be improved with an rail lane during peak hours and pre-empted signaling. The rails will also be a snow clearing priority...experience from the Silver Line shows that snow is stored in the dedicated lanes after a storm. See picture.

They also complain about cars double parking. Tickets and information can easily take care of that issue. Also the idea of a huge LRV hitting or even just waiting with many angry passengers behind your car is a great deterrent.

Less Waiting- By claiming 17,000 (It's actually more like 14,000 now) passengers they believe that the traffic density does not warrant rail service at increased headways. But the fact is that if bus service continues there will be a continued decline in ridership. If the traffic density of 28,000 from 1988 is to be brought back, this line will need greater vehicle capacity. A band aid simply won't work and neither will limited bus capacity.

More Service - What does more service mean? They mean more frequent service and claim streetcars cost more than buses. Well according to the NTAD this is not true and actually rail is significantly less than buses in terms of expense per rider. This is a ridiculous claim that has been shot down over and over again. They also say that capital costs are less. Well thats not true either given that rail vehicles have a 30 year time frame while buses last 12. That means in order to have the buses you need to buy two for every LRV but then 12 years later you need to buy 2 more meaning you have to have 4 buses for every LRV in cost!!!! And each of those two buses per LRV has a driver meaning even greater operating costs.

Accessibility- They say...can't do it with don't know the facts...and we aren't changing our minds. Basically they say it will cost more to apply ADA to streetcars than buses. However streetcars can be low floor and wheelchair accessible also. If it needs to go into the subway and has a certain platform height then neighborhood platforms can be built. They are not that expensive and can easily be created on the bulbouts. Their claim is expense but it should be called an investment. Building and continuing rail operations is an investment, while buses should be seen as a non-returning expense.

Safer Streets for All- this was discussed in the previous post with the bike safety.

What the above excuses tells me is that merchants don't see the direct benefits of rail to them. More riders and greater service means a better situation for them however for some reason they believe buses are the answer. If buses were the answer then all of the rail lines in Boston would have been replaced with buses by now. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding (eg ridership) has dropped by 50% since 1988. They should get it back with rail.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Buses are Better? No They Aren't

So the good folks of Boston are having a debate. Should they restore streetcars on the Arborway Green Line or Replace them with Rapid Bus. Distinction....BRT has its own lanes, Rapid Bus does not. Ridership on the line is in decline from 28,000 in 1988 to 14,400 in 2005. This is really all i need to know to make a decision but lets look at what the bus lovers (actually just afraid of change) are saying.

(Note: Buses are the workhorses of most transit systems but high ridership trunk lines should be more cost effective to extend the reach of bus service in a region. Light Rail serves this need by having lower operating costs per passenger by A. attracting new passengers and B. efficiently bringing them to thier destination)

Tracks Make Pavement Hard to Maintain - Well so do buses. Actually, recent issues have arisen from the Orange Line and its pavement cracking. While this might be an issue with the contractors, it also tells the story of pavement and buses. The weight of a bus is just too much. If they are so worried about the pavement from rail...they should be really worried about the pavement from buses.

Bicycle Hazards - Yes riding over the tracks can be an issue. But Portland has signs and warnings for cyclists. I don't think that a few folks ignoring the warnings and taking the spill every year would be enough to warrant the line not run rail.

Traffic Flow - Here they say that traffic flow for cars will be impeded by the streetcars. Well isn't it already impeded by buses every day? I don't get this logic... why are people so worried about traffic flow? We shouldn't design the world for cars, we should design the world for pedestrians which means that a little traffic calming never hurt anyone. If you need to speed that bad go to Talladega.

Restricted Curbside Access - Well this is a no brainer. In Portland they have bulbouts. And if it takes up 7 parking spaces, so what...see above world for cars link. Heck there is probably an answer including creating several bulbouts for each of the door ends keeping space in the center for cars and deliveries. It's not an insurmountable engineering task and its still not enough to warrant bus only service.

Then they give a plethora of reasons why they feel bus is better... which i will answer tomorrow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cost Effectiveness and BRT

Recently many cities have gone to great lengths to try to second guess what the FTA is thinking. No one knows what they are thinking and some think they are crazy but I think American's are lazy. Lazy meaning they don't want to make the real investment in rail and want to do things on the cheap.

The reason why i think they are lazy is because they want instant results. 'Give it to me now' they say. Well here's the deal. The only satisfying way to get what you want is to work hard and achieve the result through that hard work and sacrifice. This is something i learned when i ran in college. You put in the miles upon miles and you get the results. You sleep all day and watch tv and play video're not going to run under 4 minutes for a mile.

With all that being said my 80 miles a week in college was an investment, an investment in my future running. This also relates in a strange way to transit. Why do people think that BRT is a good idea? Cost Effective means 'yeah we know it sucks but we're gonna invest a dollar in our future rather than 5'. That is lazy. That is the I want it now attitude. It has been proven that people don't ride buses like rail. So why are we investing in inferior infrastructure? Is it because Grover Norquist wants to drown our government in a pool? Yes, partially because hacks like Wendell Cox, Ken Orski and Alan Pisarski have the ears of people that make transportation decisions, especially in places like Georgia.

I'm all for being 'cost effective' when it comes to building a transit system for what its worth and not gold plating it. But when it comes to an investment in the future, lets build a real transportation system that has rail, and not just the same ole buses that no one rides.

The reason why i'm writing this is because today in the Twin Cities a consultant said that the Cedar Avenue BRT project was more 'Cost Effective' than rail and that the corridor didn't have the densities to support the investment. Well it's a two way street buddy. If it doesn't have it now, and you change the zoning it will have it later. Bus won't change your land use. So in these schemes where transit officials hope that they get BRT to LRT, I'd say that they are going to have BRT for the rest of their lives. Bus doesn't build density, therefor doesn't grow ridership...simple before and after.

It probably doesn't help that BRT is pushed by the Oil and Auto Industries. This helps their cause for more freeways and wars and they know it. If they really wanted a cost effective way of doing things, they would have used all the money for the Iraq War on transportation...but thats for another post.

Welcome to The Overhead Wire

Well here goes nothing. Today is the first day of the Overhead Wire. This blog is going to be all about transit and transit oriented development. Sometimes irreverent but mostly commentary on the news of the day...which often will be ripped to shreds because someone was asking for it.

Today's News...The Houston Chronicle Reports that Metro gave in to Culbertson's demands. Now light rail to the Galleria is screwed. I'll write more about this when it's not 2 am but the fact remains the same. The folks in Houston are scared of chicken little. Don't let someone who doesn't know anything about transit tell you where to build. I hope that line gets put back into shape but don't expect anything any time soon with the leadership letting it go the way its been going. The road warriors need to wake up and get a clue.